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Transgenic Fish Are Ready for Us. Are We Ready for Them?

20:00 EDT 28 Jun 2017 | Meridian Institute

The first genetically engineered animals for human consumption will find their way to United States and Canadian markets next year. These GE salmon, developed by AquaBounty Technologies, were cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015, 20 years after AquaBounty first requested approval. Before the FDA cleared the salmon for consumption, it received 1.8 million comments opposing the fish. Now the company must survive its latest round of legal battles and try to persuade skeptical grocery stores and restaurants to buy the fish. The “AquaAdvantage” salmon contains genetic material from Chinook salmon and ocean pout, which allows it to mature far more quickly than non-transgenic fish. Friends of the Earth, and other organizations, have filed a lawsuit against the FDA, arguing that the FDA did not fully examine questions about eating the fish. “This is a poorly studied, risky and unlabeled genetically engineered fish,” said Dana Perls, the senior food and technology campaigner with FoE. More than 80 U.S. grocery stores, she added, are committed to not buying the salmon. But the FDA and Health Canada have no qualms about the health effects of eating the salmon, and many experts agree. Other critics worry more about the economic sustainability of a land-based approach to raising the fish and the environmental risks to ecosystems if the fish escape. Conner Bailey, a professor emeritus of rural sociology at Auburn University, in the U.S., is uneasy about the environmental risk to wild ecosystems should the fish escape. The FDA, he says, “has no in-house capacity to evaluate or understand the ecological consequences of transgenics in an aquatic ecosystem. And once you get anything into an aquatic ecosystem, it’s really hard to control.” If Aquabounty does rise above all its challenges, this article notes, it will send a signal around the world to unleash efforts for commercializing GE fish. Perls says she hopes legal barriers and consumer boycotts will stop GE salmon in its tracks. If not, she adds, “GE salmon could set a precedent to the approval of other GE animals in the pipeline, from fish to chickens, pigs and cows. It is critical that we don’t approve other GE animals without robust regulations and full environmental reviews to ensure that we’re prioritizing human and environmental safety over profit.”

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